Criticism – Read Between the Lines 2/2

Published on: August 10, 2015

Filled Under: Thought Processes

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In the last post, we discussed the first two steps in working with criticism on your screenplays.  In this post, we will continue onwards, and discuss the remaining two steps in this process.

Step Three deals with you figuring out how to deliver a product that is true to what you are writing, while giving them what they want.

It doesn’t necessarily mean that you can lop off two, five or ten pages and they’ll buy it.  Look at the projects that they have brought to the screen in the past, or what they currently have in production.  If they are making movies that are consistently in the 90 minute range, then they may be looking for shorter movies.  This could be due to budgetary constraints, or direct to DVD sales.  Their idea of a trim could be more dramatic than what you had in mind.

Many companies have a formula that they are looking for in the scripts they are buying.  They could also be simply trying to hop onto the latest trend.  No matter how great your writing is, if they are hot on vampire movies and your script is a teen comedy, you won’t capture their attention.

Step Four involves the difference between honest feedback, and trying to turn your script into another story.  Some contests will offer a critique of your screenplay that may not benefit you.  Most of the time, they give you excellent insight into how to tune up your script.  Here’s how you tell the difference.

For example, if someone suggests that you add a new character to your story and changes to the ending completely throw the time line of your script out of whack; that may not be helpful.  The person offering feedback is putting in too much of what they would like the story to be, instead of assessing your material on its own merits.

However, if they suggest that you change the time period of your story – shifting it from a period piece to a contemporary one – that may be good feedback.  I’ve personally read many scripts that take place in the 1800s or even the 1970s, that really don’t make use of that time period.  They’ve obviously written it for the “cool factor”, but the story would be just as effective and even more marketable if it took place in the present.

Subtle differences?  Absolutely.  That’s why you really need to understand what they are saying and make the call yourself.  However you interpret the feedback, remember that it is just an opinion.  You can make all the changes people suggest, none of them or some of them; the decision is up to you.

The main key to accepting any criticism is to not take it personally.  Recognize that anyone who is taking their time to talk to you about your work, is doing it to help you succeed.  It’s not about putting you down, but helping you get a leg up.  Never get defensive when listening to feedback.  While it’s OK to ask probing questions to dig deeper, if anyone gets a hint that their feedback is upsetting you, they will play it safe.  In that case, nobody wins.

Write it, get feedback, re-write and repeat until you have a solid script and you’ll be hearing you name right after, “And the Grand Prize for the Best Screenplay Goes to….”

Are you Selling Out or Buying In?  Here’s how you should approach your writing process.  Understand what the contests are looking for in your material so  you can recognize if your writing is about hopping on a trend or actually writing a quality product that can win the grand prize.

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